The effects of climate change will “result in huge economic, social, and environmental damage” to countries in South Asia, according to a new report released by the Asian Development Bank (ABD) on Tuesday.  

The countries in question—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka—face negative consequences from warming temperatures across a variety of sectors:

  • in agriculture, from increasing crop failures,
  • on physical infrastructure, from sea level rise and more frequent and severe weather events,
  • in energy, from the need to transition to low- and zero-carbon generation sources,
  • and among ecosystems, especially forests.

The ADB warns that without corrective action, the total economic cost to the region over the next century will be unacceptably high.

Under a “business as usual scenario”—the carbon-intensive development path that the region has been following for decades—South Asian economies would lose 1.8 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, and a nearly 8.8 percent annual loss by 2100.

In contrast, a comprehensive effort to arrest climate change would likely result in a loss of only 1.3 percent of GDP by 2050, and only 2.5 percent by 2100. While these numbers would be a serious drag on the regional economy, they would avoid the catastrophic result of the business-as-usual approach.

Many of the worst effects of climate change can be avoided or reduced if countries in the region commit to spending not only on mitigation (reducing the aggregate amount of greenhouse gases emitted) but also adaptation—increasing the resilience of economies to absorb climate impacts.

The ADB estimates that the countries in question need to spend $40 billion per year on adaptation by 2050, and $73 billion by 2100. The report authors further note that spending immediately would be much more impactful than waiting to take action: “It is evident that adaptation needs depend on global mitigation progress. It will be more challenging and costly to adapt to climate impacts under the BAU scenario than to adapt to lower-emission scenarios.”

Such level of investment is a challenge for a region where so many people struggle with poverty, and where regional economic integration lags behind other parts of Asia (as I argued in Foreign Policy earlier this year). It is doubly difficult, given that aid from the international community for the developing world under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has not been forthcoming.  

As the ADB report makes clear, this is a challenge that will dominate discussions of how to achieve economic growth and human development while balancing environmental responsibility in the region for decades to come.